Texas will challenge IndyCar teams with a nearly 24-hour workday


Saturday night’s IndyCar race at Texas Motor Speedway will be a sprint completed in less than two hours, but Felix Rosenqvist is treating the season opener like a marathon.

The Swedish driver will head to the airport in Indianapolis at 6 a.m. Friday.

He will arrive at the 1.5-mile oval north of Fort Worth a few hours later for a nine-hour whirlwind of practice, qualifying and a 200-lap race Saturday.

Then he’ll hop on a flight that won’t get him home to Indy until probably 2 a.m. Sunday.

Welcome to an exhausting start to 2020 (which already has felt too long in many ways).

GENESYS 300: IndyCar opener, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC or click here for stream

DETAILED RUNDOWN: All the info for Saturday’s race

“It’s a long day, and people are going to be knackered after that,” Rosenqvist, who is eager to get to Texas to continue his improvement on ovals, told NBCSports.com. “ When you set your mind to it, it’s like doing a 24-hour race. I’ve done a bunch of those. It’s the same kind of deal. Once you’re there, you get through it and take one hour at a time, and finally you’re done. I think it will be fine.”

On the 76th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, the NTT IndyCar Series will be facing its own version of “The Longest Day” Saturday in Texas.

Most teams are scheduled to leave Indianapolis on chartered flights before dawn Saturday morning to Alliance Airport (about 5 miles from Texas Motor Speedway). They will arrive at Texas Motor Speedway by mid-morning, get processed through health screenings and then spend a long arduous day in oppressive heat that likely will reach the high 90s.

A rainbow formed over the Texas Motor Speedway garage last year after a storm hit the track on an IndyCar practice day. IndyCar teams will be spread across both of the tracks garages Saturday (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

“That’s a brutal day,” said Graham Rahal, who is one of many drivers who will be arriving Friday night. “I hope everybody is getting their sleep now. I know a lot of guys have a ton of adrenaline going because they want to go racing, too, and they’re prepared. But it’s going to be a pretty tiring exercise for everybody.”

Said James Hinchcliffe, who traveled Thursday to Texas because of obligations for Genesys, which is sponsoring both his car (in the first of three races) and also is Texas’ title sponsor: “It’s obviously going to be a strenuous day for everybody. The guys that are flying in that morning, and then we don’t have a green flag until (8:05 p.m. ET), that makes for a very long day for everybody, in the nice, cool, dry Texas climate that we normally experience in June.

“The thing is we’ve had races that were rained out on a Saturday or a Sunday and had to be run the next day, and we’ve had events where we’ve had to cram a lot into a single day, so it’s not completely uncharted water for us. Getting through a day with a practice session, a qualifying and a race isn’t the end of the world. It’s definitely a long day because it’s a night race, but I think the crews and the drivers have handled similar situations before, and I don’t think it’s going to be too big an issue.”

Swedish drivers Felix Rosenqvist (left) and Marcus Ericsson share a laugh before qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway last season. Rosenqvist and Ericsson are teammates at Chip Ganassi Racing this year. (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Team owner Ed Carpenter said it’s a less than ideal scenario to travel race morning but with teams trying to limit overnight travel during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there isn’t much choice.

“It will be nearly a 24-hour day by the time (team personnel) get home,” Carpenter said Thursday, noting teams are taking the unusual step of having three meals available for their teams. “We’ve had a lot of questions and thought about how that’s going to work from when we land to what the processes are getting into the track, how we’re feeding our people with all the PPE and masks that are required, what are the rules as far as getting some fresh air for guys that are going to be outside in nearly 100-degree heat.

“It’s going to be a quick cadence to the event. There’s not a whole lot of time between when we get there and tech inspection, practice, track, qualifying, race, the impound process. There’s been a lot of communication behind the scenes between IndyCar, the teams, the teams and employees, of what the expectations are because it’s very important that we do this right and safely to be able to continue our season.”

Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull said the trip to Texas is IndyCar’s “version of driving to Darlington,” noting it isn’t that dissimilar from the travel involved for NASCAR’s return because the chartered flights will eliminate extra time at gates and security.

“We also have to go through all the safety checks (at the track), and that’s probably the most difficult part for everybody to stand in line,” Hull told NBCSports.com. “That might be the most tedious thing of the whole day, really, because once we’re inside and go to work, practicing social distancing will be a standard for everyone in the garage area.”

Team Penske president Tim Cindric calling strategy at Texas last year (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Team Penske president Tim Cindric said his North Carolina-based team will be following a similar itinerary (with a slightly longer flight from an airport near its Mooresville, North Carolina, shop).

“We’re going to leave before the sun comes up for sure, go through all of our screenings and protocols before we take off and then go through that process just to get into the racetrack,” Cindric said. “It’s going to be a long day without a doubt, but we wouldn’t trade it.

“I don’t want to be home on Saturday. I’d much rather be at Texas.”

So will Ryan Hunter-Reay, who will spend Friday night in his motor home at the track to be well rested.

“Not only are we going straight into one of the fastest tracks we go to, but we’re going into one of the longest days I think all of us will experience,” the 2012 champion said. “So it’s ramping up quickly. I think it’ll be tough for the drivers physically.

“But we’re doing this to get it in, to get the racing back to where the IndyCar season starts and to get it on TV for our fans. This is what we have to do right now, and I think everybody is up for the task. We’re just looking forward to putting the helmet on, shutting the visor and going for it.”


IndyCar practice: 1 p.m., NBC Sports Gold

IndyCar qualifying5 p.m., NBCSN, NBC Sports Gold

Countdown to Green: 7:30 p.m., NBCSN

IndyCar Genesys 3008 p.m., NBC

IndyCar postrace coverage: 10 p.m., NBCSN

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”